Joseph Morris and the Morrisite War

Joseph Morris and the Morrisite War

Joseph Morris was a Mormon that received revelations that named him as the Seventh Angle of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelations. He declared himself to be a prophet and petitioned Brigham Young to recognize his divine calling. Although ignored by Brigham, Joseph began to amass followers (called Morrisites). Morris and many of his followers were excommunicated from the church in 1861. Shortly afterword he set up his own church called the Church of the Firstborn, complete with 12 apostles and a presidency.  By 1862 there were over 300 members of this church.

The Morrisites believed that Brigham Young was a fallen prophet and that James Strang was actually the rightful successor to Joseph Smith before Morris. The Morrisites had a strong belief in reincarnation; that Morris himself was a reincarnate Moses and that Joseph Smith was a reincarnate Mormon and before that, the Apostle Paul of the New Testament. They rejected what they perceived to be as Brigham Young’s doctrines including polygamy, temple ordinances, blood atonement, and the priesthood ban on blacks. Most importantly they believed that the second coming was imminent. They believed in Christ’s immediate return so strongly that they didn’t plant crops for the following year and instead pooled their resources, living the law of consecration. Under Morris’ direction the faithful gathered at Kingston Fort to await Christ’s return.

As the date prophesied by Morris of Christ’s second coming came and went and continued to slip, the Morrisites’ supplies ran thin. Tensions among the church followers ran high. Some tried to leave, taking their possessions with them, further depleting the tight resources. Several disillusioned members were captured and brought back to the group to be “tried by the Lord” when he would return. Reports of Morris holding some of his followers hostage reached the Utah territory militia.  An arrest order was issued for Morris and others. A three day skirmish ended with Morris and several others dead, and his followers surrendering.

Joseph Morris was succeeded by George Williams who believed himself to be the reincarnate Cainen of the Old Testament. Under Williams leadership many of the Morrisites gathered again in Montana. Remnants of this church (renamed the Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Most High) continued until 1969.

Learn More:

Wikipedia – Church of the Firstborn (Morrisite)

Wikipedia – Morrisite War

Utah History Encyclopedia – Morrisites

Image Credit- Public Domain